King Narasimhadeva and his spiritual advisor
- Place of origin:
Konarak, India (made)
2nd quarter of 13th century (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
South-East Asia, room 47b, case EXP
This is a portrait sculpture of King Narasimha I, ruler of Orissa (1238-64). Here he is receiving spiritual council from his Vaisnava priest, probably the Brahmana Acaryaraja.
The composition is hieratic, with the king represented smaller than his priest to reflect the relationship of pupil to teacher (‘achariya’ or guru). The priest is of high status. He wears fine rings and sits cross-legged as he expounds.
The bearded king is simply dressed, stripped of all royal symbols. He is seated in a yogic posture, with his sword placed on the ground, holding a palm-leaf manuscript which is emblematic of divine knowledge. He is accompanied by two male figures (perhaps his sons?). ‘Outside’ four members of the royal guard wait, casually leaning on their shields, decorated with Vishnu’s conch.
This scene of royal instruction is set against the backdrop of a temple. It is very probably the shrine of Purusottama-Jagannatha (Vishnu as the supreme god), the tutelary deity of the king’s household, at Puri. The Eastern Ganga dynasty closely identified their rulers with Visnu. They adopted the title' Narasimha' after Vishnu’s 'man-lion' form and claimed descent from Vishnu himself, acting as his agent on earth. Under this system, even the king must defer to priestly intermediaries if he is to enjoy the benefits of divine power and favour.
This relief is one of a series depicting aspects of royal Vaisnava worship in Orissa and is associated with the Sun Temple at Konarak. Narasimha I was the patron of this mighty temple dedicated to Surya, and this series originally decorated the temple’s walls. A contemporary source suggests that the artist was the eminent sculptor Visvanatha Mahapatra.
In this Konarak sculpture Narasimha is depicted with his guru, probably the yogi Acharyraja. As king, Narasimha, named after the 'man-lion' incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, ruled Orissa and neighbouring regions of eastern India from 1238 to 1264. He held political control over the region in which the Sun temple was constructed and was the actual patron of the temple, yet he is shown as smaller than his guru. The guru sits cross-legged, with one arm raised in a gesture of explanation. The bearded king, seated in the centre of the sculpture, is stripped of all royal symbols. His sword lies on the ground in front of him. Instead of a weapon he holds a palm-leaf manuscript, the original medium for transcribing sacred texts in India. Besides the king are two attendants: one sits reading a palm-leaf manuscript; the other stands with his hands joined together in a demonstration of reverance. On the lower register, in smaller scale, four warriors stand with shields and weapons. The message is clear here at the temple even the king must defer to the status of priestly intermediaries if he is to partake of the benefits of divine power and favour.
Place of Origin
Konarak, India (made)
2nd quarter of 13th century (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 78.5 cm, Length: 43 cm, Depth: 23 cm
Historical context note
This scene represents Narasimha I (1238-64), the builder of the Sun Temple at Konarak, receiving spiritual council from his Vaisnavite priest. The king is represented smaller than his priest, reflecting the relationship of pupil to teacher (guru). He holds a palm-leaf manuscript in his hand, his sword resting beside him, a reminder of his temporal powers. Warriors on the lower register have their shields decorated with Visnu's conch.
King Narasimhadeva and his Spiritual Advisor, shale, Orissa, India, 13th century
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
E.B.Havell, Eleven plates representing works of Indian Sculpture, Chiefly in English collections, London, India Society, 1911, pl. III.
A.K.Coomaraswarmy, Visva Karma, 1914, pl. 72A
O.M. Starza-Majewski, 'King Narasimha I before his Spiritual Preceptor', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1971, pp.134-8.
Donaldson, T.E. Hindu Temple Art of Orissa, 3 vols, Leiden and New York, 1985-7, ISBN 9004071733, 9004071741, 9004071768, 9004071776, vol.II p.613, vol.III, pp.1170-1174 and fig.4218.
Donaldson, T.E. 'Ganga Monarch and a Monumental Sun Temple' in Dehejia,V.(ed.), Royal Patrons and Great Temple Art, Bombay, 1988, ISBN 8185026025, pp.125-143.
Brand, M. The Vision of Kings, Art and Experience in India, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, 1995, ISBN 0500974381, pp.8-11.
Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London V & A Publication, 2007, p.75. pl.84. ISBN 971851775095
Guy, John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p.116 cat. no.78 ISBN 9788476649466
Willis, M. (ed.). India: the Art of the Temple. Shanghai : Shanghai Museum, 2010. 254p, ill. ISBN 978-7-5479-0092-5. Cat. 2:30, pp. 164-5.
Text is in Chinese. The original text submitted in English reads:
2.30 Sculpture of King NarasiMha (1238-64) and his spiritual advisor
Attributed to Visvanatha Mahapatra
Carboniferous shale, 78.5 cm h.
India, Orissa, KoNarak, mid-13th century CE
Victoria and Albert Museum 938(IS)
The gigantic, partly-ruined Surya Deul or Sun Temple at KoNarak was built by King NarasiMha of Orissa in about 1241-58. The Orissan kings were seen as deputies of the supreme deity PuruSottama (Jagannatha); NarasiMha was lauded for his military victories and the temple glorified its patron as well as the sun god. This sculpture is one of a series situated around the walls of the temple’s central structures showing NarasiMha in various poses, for example as an archer; participating in the swing festival; worshipping at the shrine to PuruSottama in Puri; or receiving the god Surya’s garland of command. The reliefs were, according to a possibly contemporary text, carved by Visvanatha Mahapatra, who specialised in such royal scenes, and GaNga Mahapatra, the head sculptor.
Scale reflects hierarchy and normally the king is the largest figure, but in this finely-carved relief NarasiMha, who is shown without his jewellery and whose sword rests on the ground, is depicted smaller than his guru. Tantric sects, whose yogic practices and secret rites could not be learned from texts alone but required initiation by a guru, gave the teacher god-like status. The guru is probably Acaryaraja, a Vaishnava Brahmana of the Vatsa-gotra lineage. His hand is in a teaching gesture while the king sits thoughtfully holding a palm-leaf manuscript. Behind them is an Orissan temple hall and below the king’s warriors stand in relaxed poses.
India: The Art of the Temple, Shanghai Museum (04/08/2010-14/11/2010)
The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 23/02/1996-28/04/1996)
The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 04/02/0196-25/11/1995)
: L’escultura en els temples indis: l’art de la devocio (CaixaForum, Barcelona 27/07/2007-18/11/2007)
Labels and date
KING NARASIMHADEVA AND HIS SPIRITUAL ADVISOR
The Sun temple, Konarak, Orissa
Eastern Ganga period
This scene represents Narasimha I (1238-64), the builder of the famous Sun Temple at Konarak, receiving spiritual council from his Vaisnavite priest. The king is represented smaller than his priest, reflecting the relationship of pupil to teacher (guru). He holds a palm-leaf manuscript in his hand, his sword resting beside him, a reminder of his temporal powers. Warriors on the lower register have their shields decorated with Visnu's conch.
Orissa, eastern India (Attributed to sculptor Visvanatha Mahapatra)